Thursday, 19 November 2015

Review of New Order, Brixton Academy, November 17, 2015

We’ve grown up together, New Order and I. Watching them live isn’t like watching any other band. 
We used to hang out in The Hacienda when I was a teenager. They owned the place and I was queuing four-deep at their bar for an overpriced can of Red Stripe or something.
Whatever happened to that carefree, red-haired Mancunian with blue glasses and an unjoined-up love of New Order, Yazoo, Howard Jones and the Human League?
Well, he became a careworn, silver-haired Londoner with rimless glasses and an unrequited love of New Order, the Human League and The Go! Team.
So trekking to Brixton to see them again is, to use the happy cliche, a personal pilgrimage. Walking from the godforsaken tube station to the Academy via a couple of pints at the Prince of Wales has definite echoes of walking from the 86 bus stop in Piccadilly to the Hacienda via a couple of pints at the Briton's Protection. 
There's even a genuinely warm, alcohol-fuelled glow of nostalgia in the inexplicably long delay before the band's appearance, the exhilarating price of a pint of p*ss at the Academy and the ear-numbing volume level that I never liked even when I was 18.
But hang on a minute. Here they come. And they may look a bit past it like the rest of us, but don't you agree that they sound like the past, the present and the not-too-distant future?
They’ve used their years and years of global stagecraft to become the masters of the disguised intro. Evergreen Stephen kicks off the beats, static Gillian layers on the synths, happily beer-bellied Bernard dad-dances away self-consciously front and centre
Then in comes the Hooky bass line minus the bitterly estranged Hooky. Could it be Temptation? Or 586? The roar of a thousand 40-somethings rises as the melody kicks it. And it turns out it’s the peerless Bizarre Love Triangle. Remember the lounge-style acoustic version that duo played every night in the Ko Samui restaurant in Thailand back in 2012? I do.
Keeps you guessing. Keeps you smiling. Keeps you foot tapping.
Then the Crystal guitar riff growls into view. Remember that time we heard it while wallowing in a hot tub in Hyde Park ten years ago? I do. What was that all about?
Then Ceremony’s siren-like opening melody swirls with the dry ice around the Academy. Still sounds as urgent as that time my brother and I heard it rammed at the front of the Hacienda in ’83.
And Perfect Kiss, the song that sounded as far away from Joy Division as New York dance clubs were from Manchester when I bought it from a record shop in Blackpool after cadging a couple of quid off Dad on a seaside trip in ‘85.
Then the gentle bickering of Your Silent Face Tardises me instantly to the day I played it unheard at home for the first time as a teen and got a tut from Mum at Bernard’s very Mancunian lyrical demand, "So why don’t you p*ss off." It could have been directed straight at Peter Hook. 
Ah, Hooky. The bearded, Mancunian elephant in the room. Last seen singing his own bitter, gruff and ready versions of these very songs at the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth under an August monsoon. His versions were raw, less polished, more retro. The New Order versions are fuller, grander and retain the smiley-faced freshness of the originals. 
It helps that the Brixton gig is bathed in a spectacular light show while poor old Hooky’s festival slot was sandwiched between the truly awful Laura Mvula and the no longer Magic Numbers. 
I love both incarnations. Just love them. But Peter Hook and the Light may be living solely off the past.
In contrast in south London, up pops La Roux’s fresh-faced Elly Jackson to sing on a couple of new numbers. A smarter pop philosopher than me could have some fun charting the electronic dance lineage from Depeche Mode via Blue Monday to Elly's own, brilliant Bulletproof.
At the eleventh hour, the three-song encore rightly remembers the past and recalls the missing. Ian Curtis’s voice can never be replaced on Love Will Tear Us Apart and Atmosphere (remember listening to that one over and over again in your girlfriend’s bedroom back in ’83?) so black and white photos on the big screen will have to do.
And finally, mightily, Blue Monday - the chest-thumping ghost of Hooky alive like a spinning head in an exorcism. It may be over-familiar but it still feels as futuristic as the famous floppy disc sleeve that sheathed its mighty 12 inches 32 years ago.
Too soon it's midweek tube-dash time and a final thank you to London and Manchester from Bernard: “You’ve been great  - thanks for all your support over the years.”
Music complete. Memories complete.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Ich Bin Ein Berlin Marathon Runner 2015

There was only about a mile left when the tech failure happened. The pace was slowing and the Brandenburg Gate was in sight when the final water station popped up on the right.

A desperado in front of me saw the outstretched plastic cups and veered drunkenly in front of me to grab one. He accidentally bashed my arm but I thought nothing of it as I grabbed a cup of my own for the final push.

But when I looked at my Fitbit, the impact had stopped the GPS timer and cut to the end-of-run summary screen. It had stuck on 25.2 miles - exactly one mile short of marathon distance with no way of restarting it. My first marathon would go unrecorded by Fitbit and Strava. 

Maybe it was the fatigue or the adrenaline of the moment but it seemed really important at the time. I wasted valuable energy by cussing under my breath and wondered what to do for the best.

It had all gone so well until then. That September Sunday morning in Berlin was beautiful - sunny but chilly enough for me to wear a disposable M&S pullover and bright enough to need the Sunwise shades while I waited with 40,000 nervy others on the Stra├če des 17. Juni.

Deborah and I had made the 20-minute S-train journey from the Zoologischer Garten station near our Wyndham Excelisor hotel and walked with the giddy crowds from the Hauptbahnhof to the starting zone. I was smothered in vaseline in all the right places and feeling as slippery as a German eel. I'd breakfasted on a banana and a train station croissant plus a Morning Berry protein bar and an SIS Hydro sport drink.

My Batman-style utility belt was loaded with two mini bottles of SIS Go Electrolyte plus a couple of gels. I had an extra gel in my left shorts pocket and a handful of chewy gel Shot Bloks from personal trainer Yasmine in my right. I was a walking nutritional time bomb.

I left Deborah at the German Chancellery after a good luck hug and headed into the secure start area for a forty-minute wait for my wave to set off. I stretched, relaxed, marvelled at the runners of all nationalities gathered for this run-of-a-lifetime. We walked up towards the starting arch in front of the Siegessaule victory column. I seemed to be surrounded by Danes. Hooded crows flew across the road that divided the Tiergarten park. A final dash to the side of the road to shamelessly depressurise and I was ready.

The first couple of miles were slow through the sheer volume of traffic. I dodged and weaved through the pack trying to find a rhythm and a route amid the pattering running shoes. 

By mile three I was starting to hit my race pace - around 8'34 per mile. I felt great. The streets were lined with cheering crowds, bands popped up every so often - a jazz quartet here, a steel band there, an oompah band on the right, a rock band on the roundabout on the left. It was exhilarating, thrilling and joyful.

And that was it. The miles rolled by with high-fiving kids and clapping pensioners lining the streets. I got halfway round and was delighted to hear a cheer from Deborah. There was plenty left in the tank and the legs were feeling good. The 60-minute Thursday night massage by Richard was paying off.

We raced through the utilitarian apartment blocks of old East Berlin and emerged into the leafy shopping boulevards of the old west. I felt as cheerful as a chaffinch - head up, smiling, hoping I wouldn't hit the dreaded wall. But there's not much of that left in the city anyway these days.

By 20 miles the outside of both knees knew they were in a race and my calf muscles were grumbling slightly but it was nothing serious. At 38km Deborah popped up again on the roadside to give another kickass cheer.

By 24 miles the calfs were complaining a bit louder and my pace slowed to 9'20 per mile. By now all the gels were gone, the bottles were empty and I was down to my last chew. I'd never run out of nutrition on my training runs but with less than a couple of miles to go I was out of fuel. I was heading into the unknown.

But the water station jostle and a glug of cold water were enough to provide that final psychological boost to press on for the finish line. I faffed about with the Fitbit and re-fired up the GPS for the last mile. 

It was a fabulous feeling, running along the Unter den Linden towards the Brandenburg Gate with crowds cheering on either side, the finish arch ahead, the feet thumping on to the timing mat, stopping the bloody watch and slowing to a walk for the first time for nearly four hours.

The water kerfuffle meant I didn't have a proper unofficial time. I knew it must be under four hours and by adding together the long run and the short run a time of around 3hr 53mins looked probable. I wrapped myself in a yellow plastic binliner and feasted on a banana and a bottle of water.

I grabbed a medal and queued for a complimentary pint of Erdinger alcohol-free beer - not as bad as it sounds - than headed out to meet Deborah. I stretched out in the sunshine waiting for an official time.

I searched for my name in the iPhone app and there it was: I'd finished my first marathon in 3:51:30. I was pleased. I was hoping for under four hours and I'd done it fairly comfortably. Not only that, I felt great. The calves were already feeling better and after a bottle of SIS protein shake we walked to the finish line village to a buy a finishers' t-shirt, a bratwurst and a pint of real beer.

It was delicious. Ich bin ein Berlin Marathon runner.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Berlin Marathon: Weeks 10 & 11 - Long Running Back in London

East Acton has never looked worse. After two weeks in California, the walk to and from and the tube has become more miserable than ever. I've spent my running hours over the last fortnight plotting my escape. A move west to somewhere nice on the river, more time in Norfolk, Christmas in Lanzarote. None of it will happen, of course, but it dulls the pain of motorbikes trying to break the land speed record when the lights go green at Savoy Circus, speeding left-turners careering through red lights at the pedestrian crossing on the Westway and Romanian squeegee abusers turning the central reservation of the A40 into a raft of empty plastic water bottles.

We got back after the overnight flight from San Francisco on Sunday, August 9. We cabbed it home and I dozed through the first Super Sunday of the season before heading out on my longest run yet - a fifteen mile loop via Kew Bridge and Putney Bridge. It felt good at a pace of 8:24 despite the jet laggy leginess.

Monday's rest day was boosted by City's 3-0 win at WBA and the rest of the week passed in a flurry of 40 mins, five miles, 60 mins and a Friday personal training session on the TRX ropes focusing on upper body strength. The DOMS from this one didn't kick in fully until Monday morning when I could barely lift my right bicep. Honest pain. We even managed to sneak in a welcome-home midweek family feast at the Monkey Temple with Cath and Andy.

It was a trip to Manchester for City v Chelsea on Sunday so I had to do my next long run on Saturday. Sixteen miles on the same loop as last time but this time starting and finishing from the gym. This one fizzed by in the sunshine. It was eight miles by the time I looked at my watch for the first time and I hit the jacuzzi after 2:11:59 at 8:14. I still think that's a bit fast for the marathon - PT Yasmine thinks I should be aiming for 9 mins per mile to go under four hours but that feels slow.

The City match was a welcome break after the first week back in the office. The 3-0 win helped but so did the bus ride home to see mum and dad plus a couple of pints with Mark in Oddest, a couple more with Vince at the ground and a couple more of Hyde's Manchester Star on the train home. I eased the guilty conscience with a quick sprint from the Etihad to Piccadilly Station at full time, comfortably making the 6.35pm rattler.

Another routine week of 40 mins, five miles, 50 mins and a PT involving kettlebells and polar bear push-ups was broken up with an unexpected bonus trip to the Oval on Thursday for the first day of the fifth Ashes Test. England had won the series and it showed. It turned into the slowest scoring, least wicket-falling day of the series. Old school 1976. The day may have been overcast but the ticket was free, the company good and the Marston's New World IPA flowed much more freely than it does in the office.

The week climaxed with yet another longest run yet - 17 miles.

This was the same loop as last week but extended with a trip into Wandsworth Park and back. I deliberately slowed the pace this time - 8:34 for 2:26:09. It was a straightforward, niggle-free run but as I was dripping wet and drinking a protein shake in the gym changing room it was difficult to envisage keeping that up for another nine miles and 90 minutes. That still seems a daunting distance.

I celebrated by watching City beat Everton 2-0 on the TV followed by a Sunday evening feast at the Monkey Temple with Deborah while her mum and dad kept the kids company.

So with under five weeks to go I was up at at 6.30am this morning after yesterday's rest day for another steady 10k along the Thames before work. The body's holding up well but I can sense the challenge is about to become more psychological. Better that than a physical injury at this stage, though.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Yosemite Valley 10k

Mirror Lake meadow at Yosemite

Friday, August 7

Nothing emphasises California's wonderful extremes better than the drive from Death Valley to Yosemite. The five-hour journey rises from the devil's furnace way below sea level to a stunningly beautiful landscape teaming with life from the valley floor skywards from 4,000 feet.

We made a detour to see the ancient bristlecone pines on the White Mountains on the way then yomped up to Lembert Dome overlooking the alpine Tuolumne Meadows near the eastern entrance to the national park. We did two more hikes the next day, the first five-miler a steep climb along the Mist Trail to the top of the Vernal waterfall and an easier five-miler through the woods to Mirror Lake in the afternoon. It was this route that we decided to jog the following morning.

Big Joe and I were up at 7am for the half-hour drive from Yosemite View Lodge to the car park at Curry Village. It was a lovely run around the traffic-free loop, up through the woods, across a butterfly meadow then splashing across Tenaya Creek for the run back. I left Joe in the car park to complete another circuit of the loop around a campsite to make it a satisfying 10k run at an altitude of 4,135ft in just over an hour. 

We rehydrated on protein shakes then headed back to the lodge before the long, long drive to our final Californian stop, Napa Valley. 

Friday, 14 August 2015

Altitude Training at The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Monday, August 3

I had never run at high altitude before and the reports I'd read about its effect on the body meant I approached the rim of the magnificent Grand Canyon with some trepidation. This was going to be an epic 14-miler under the Arizona sunshine.

The plan was to adapt to the conditions by keeping a close eye on my heart rate and making sure it hovered around the border of the cardio and peak zone even if that meant slowing the pace right down to cope with the lack of oxygen. We'd spent all of yesterday hiking around the Canyon so we were already getting use to the thinner air without even knowing it.

Research suggests a normal pace of 8 mins/mile becomes 8:45 per mile at an altitude of 5,000 feet above sea level. The there-and-back part of the rim trail I selected started at 7,133 feet above sea level, dipping to 6,800 feet along the way before climbing back to its starting level so I was expecting it to be tough.

But it was also exhilarating. Big Joe joined me for the first half-hour from the Mather Point overlook near the main visitor centre running west until the end of the very steep incline three miles later just after the Bright Angel trailhead. We started running under the Californian Condors at 7am to beat the heat and the cool conditions were perfect. The canyon falling away forever on the right made this one of the most memorable runs available anywhere in the world.

After Joe dropped out I was on my own as the paved path eventually ran out after five miles and the rocky trail tested the grip of my Brooks trainers to the limit. I knew my pace was slower than usual but I was enjoying the run and coping with both the distance and the steep undulations that added up to a 1,104ft elevation gain.

It was just me, a couple of startled rabbits, a mule deer, ravens, turkey vultures and the odd early hiker with one of the Earth's greatest views all to ourselves.

By the time I'd finished 2:16:01 later, equalling the furthest distance I'd ever run, I'd averaged 9:43 per mile, about a minute and a half slower than my usual steady pace. It was the most memorable training run I'd ever done.

After that it was back to Vegas for an overnighter at the MGM Grand and a dip on the rooftop pool before heading down, down, down to Death Valley.

Training Below Sea Level at Death Valley, California

Wednesday, August 5

Two days after the 7,000ft highs of the Grand Canyon we found ourselves two hundred feet below sea level in the furnace of Death Valley.

The temperature on the dashboard of the Dodge edged over the 100 degree mark as we drove through the high desert from Vegas to the Valley. Stepping out of the air conditioning for the first time at Dante's View was like walking into a hair dryer. We marvelled at the salt deposits at the bottom of the endless valley surrounded by steep Toblerone ridges.

Another stop at Zabriskie Point on the way to the Ranch at Furnace Creek revealed the start of interesting trail - the Badlands Loop. The terrifying sign at the trail head said it was a two-and-a-half mile loop through a mountain pass via the Gower Canyon but should not be attempted after 10am due to the extreme, life-threatening heat.

So we hatched a plan to get up at 6,30am and jog around the trail a couple of times before the sun was barely above the top of the mountains.

A bold idea and it started ok. Big Joe and I jogged from the car park to the edge of the rocky trail and descended at dawn into a spookily deserted gully. The silence was eerily deafening. It wasn't long before we stopped even trying to jog through the rocks and concentrated on just finding the sign posts that marked the scary route through the arid terrain. It was unusual and intimidating to be devoid of directions.

After about a mile we reached a post that had two arrows pointing in opposite directions - clearly the start of a loop. But at that point we turned round and retraced our steps. Without a map and when everywhere looks the same - sand, rocks, desert - the last thing we wanted was to end up lost in the valley as the sun was doing its worst.

A few days later I found this comment on hikespeak.comI managed to get lost on this trek. Ended up down there for 3 hours on my own and ran out of water and almost hope of ever finding my way back. Was close to death…literally..:-(

I'm glad we turned back. It was a memorable experience but no jog. I changed the status from "run" to "hike" in Strava later that day. We headed back for a buffet breakfast at the ranch and the long drive to Yosemite.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Las Vegas Gym Day

We stepped out of the air conditioned Dodge Journey and into the outdoor sauna of Las Vegas on a Friday evening. Only a fool would run in these conditions. The plan was to jog a circuit of the strip this morning but the intense heat meant I headed to the small and spartan fitness room of the Tropicana hotel for a body conditioning session. 
I lunged with weights, planked, squat jumped, calf raised, hopped and generally faffed about while Big Joe did some serious weights work not far away. No cardio but it was good to get last night's Pinks hot dogs and Sierra Nevada beers out of the system. Vegas is weird. Bright, brash, trying too hard. 

We packed up and headed to the Grand Canyon. It took more than four hours and was rewarded with a truly awesome sunset and an excellent Grand Canyon beer complete with an internal hop bomb. At 7.5%, it was a two bottle maximum. 

Los Angeles: Santa Monica Beach Runs

The road trip took us to the Best Western Hotel 20 blocks north of Santa Monica beach so Big Joe and I hopped on the Big Blue No 1 bus at 7.30am for the ten minute ride towards the Pacific. This was an easy six-mile run day and Joe's first 10k so the plan was to take it easy on a warm, overcast morning. 
We started with some dynamic stretches at the junction of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean then headed south to the pier and onto the concrete beach path shared by runners and cyclists. 
We took it very easy so it was four minutes until I hit the cardio zone but it felt great to be jogging along one of the finest beaches in California. We headed past the empty car parks and volley ball parks, past the beachfront cafes opening for business, past the hobos with their shopping trolleys full of nothing. One of them was proudly flying a tea towel print of the Ronald Reagan movie Bedtime For Bozo. Most had some version of the American flag on display, even the one shouting optimistically about how much everyone wanted to see his penis. Always amazes me how patriotic the U.S. down-and-outs seem to be. 
The graffiti art on the shop shutters heralded the start of Venice Beach, closed and smelly with dustbin carts doing the early rounds. The famous Venice Beach outdoor muscle gym, framed by a concrete dumbbell, was deserted. We made the halfway turn soon afterwards and saw it all again in reverse. It seems like a community. Dog walkers stopped to chat with each other, young skate boarders chatted to the older, hirsute pot heads. The sun broke through the clouds. 
We finished with a stretch on Ocean. We'd averaged just over 9 mins per mile, around my target Berlin race pace and it felt good. A good moment for Joe, too. We dashed across the road for the bus back and rehydrated on protein shakes before spending the day traipsing around smelly Hollywood. 

The next morning it was a solo 60-minute steady run. This time I went north to the Pacific Palisades. Not nearly as interesting. Just beach on the left and the Pacific Highway on the right under another warm and cloudy morning sky. 
We packed up and headed to Vegas. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: Cambria Speed Run

Up at 7am for a 40-minute tempo run along the boardwalk at Moonstone Beach in Cambria with Big Joe. We were staying at the Fogcatcher Inn and its name is no misnomer. It was foggy when we arrived yesterday after a misty odyssey south down Highway 1,  foggy when we had dinner with a delicious bottle of Californian red in the lovely outdoor diner and slightly less foggy when we did our dynamic stretching on the wonderfully cosy seafront this morning. 

I pushed hard and stayed in the peak heart rate zone for most of the run. Exhilarating surroundings - salt in the air and a great Pacific Coast atmosphere even if the run was a bit back and forth.  
We ran west to the end of the boardwalk, east to the other end, back west again, back east again and finished with some planks outside the Fogcatcher. Great way to start the day before a four-hour drive to LA via a nice Mexican lunch stop in nondescript Santa Barbara with its pier and building sites. 

We ended the day with a top notch Joe's Pizza on the beach at Santa Monica after rehydrating with a trio of IPAs at the marvellously ramshackle Ale House on Main Street. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: San Francisco Half Marathon

didn't want this one to end. A fabulous run in glorious sunshine and a refreshing breeze over the wonderful Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It was made even better by Big Joe riding the route with me on a hired bicycle handing out gels and rehydrating fluids on request. 
It ended a two-day running drought. I sneaked in a treadmill interval run on Friday after work and then it was up early on Saturday for the 11.50am flight from Heathrow to SFO. We feasted on clam chowder in our jet lag then spent Sunday walking for miles through this beautiful city. We took the cable car downtown from the Wharf, walked miles back for a couple at Jack's Bar then headed out and onto the bridge before retracing our steps in the sunshine for a well earned burrito. 
We rounded off Sunday with an an unforgettable evening trip to Alcatraz. 
The next morning Joseph and I started with some dynamic stretching on the seafront at Fisherman's Wharf then headed west, up and over the steep hill at Mason's Park then along through the majestic wildlife of Crissy Field to the bridge. It's a steep climb to get there but the miles raced by with such stunning scenery to enjoy. Crossing the bridge itself was exhilarating. I felt full of energy for the run home and was pleased to make it a negative split quite comfortably. I'm not ready to double the distance just yet but this felt like a breakthrough run somehow; an almost routine half marathon. 

I rehydrated with a SIS Rego before we bundled into the holiday hire car (a Dodge Journey SUV) and headed down Highway 1 to Carmel. We stopped on the way for a lengthy hike to see the hilariously bad tempered elephant seals at Ana Nuevo State park then made it to the Carmel Mission Inn in time for a big fat steak dinner at the Rio Grill. I don't think I've ever walked so many steps in a single day. And I enjoyed every one of them. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: Week Seven Update

Wow, that long weekend off flew by. I took Friday off to go Kingston with Geoff to celebrate his 64th birthday but he got a ticket for the Ashes at Lord's and moved the drinks to Monday. So I booked Monday off and kept Friday as well for the sheer bonus joy of it.

I warmed up for the trip to Kingston with a 12-mile long run on Sunday morning, starting at the gym then heading over Putney Bridge, back along the Surrey side of the Thames to Chiswick Bridge and back to the gym. It was tough, which suggests I'm on course but by no means ready for Berlin yet. Good job there's still plenty of training miles to bank.

A welcome sauna and jacuzzi helped the muscles and I spent the afternoon in the garden rehydrating on Brewers Union German beers from the Askew Road off licence.

A drizzly Monday morning heralded my last session with Yasmine before California. This was my introduction to the TRX rope system. I'd been to one group class in the past and used it for upper body strength but Yasmine's focus was on the glutes and core as usual. It was a fun and challenging workout out. One of the great things about these PT sessions is learning all these new exercises which I can build on up to and beyond the marathon.

After the session I got the Overground to Clapham Junction then the train to Kingston, picking up Geoff on the platform at Earlsfield on the way. The plan was to try Stein's, the German bratwurst and beer parlour with branches on the riverbank at both Kingston and Richmond. The only problem was that the Kingston branch doesn't open until 5.30pm on Mondays, neither of us had checked and it was only 12.15pm.

Plan B involved a quick al fresco pint at the riverside The Ram under the clouds surrounded by graduating students and their families, another at the town centre Wetherspoon's, The Kings Tun, while we waited for the next train to Richmond, a quick one at The Cricketers on Richmond Green and another at The White Cross on the riverfront to break up the journey to our final destination, Stein's.

Wasn't really worth the effort. The beer was fine, served in two-pint glasses by a young Romanian barmaid, but the food was average, dished up on plastic plates on a grubby outdoor table featuring a sign warning against singing or talking too loudly for fear of offending the millionaire neighbours.

We escaped to the District Line via a return to The White Cross before enjoying a nightcap in The Tabard at Turnham Green then home for a well-earned snooze before bedtime.

All in all, perfect preparation for today's steady, post-work, 50-minute run in the lovely evening sunshine to Barnes Bridge and back, complete with negative splits and jasmine blowing through my mind. I think I'll take tomorrow as a rest day.

Berlin Marathon: Saturday Strava Segment

Hammersmith Bridge
One of the signature features of Strava is the segment. Every time you upload a run, Strava compares it to all the other routes on its database and reveals segments of your route that have been run by other users. It then tells you how your effort compared with the others who have run it that day, week, month or even all time. It's intriguing.

One of the segments I run a lot is along the Thames path between Hammersmith Bridge and Black Lion Lane, so I decided to push myself for that half-mile on an otherwise easy 45-minute outing on a bright, sunny, Saturday morning. It's also a good way to shock the body from its regular routine, which is something Yasmine the PT keeps recommending.

It was definitely a shock. I was unusually out of puff and glad to see the Black Lion pub looming into site after a quickish dash. Back at home, Strava confirmed it was personal best time for that segment of 4'07. That put me 352nd on the all-time list and 166th this year. So plenty of room for improvement and another mini-motivational tool.

I rehydrated by hopping on the bus back to Hammersmith with Joe and sampling a trio of beers in the sunshine at The Blue Boat.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: Week Six Update

Yasmine introduced me to a new piece of kit at our 8am session - the ViPR. It's a hollow tube with holding points cut into it at different places along its length. Their website defines it like this:

"ViPR bridges the gap between movement and strength training. It combines full-body movement with load, enhancing the vitality, performance and reconditioning goals of clients and athletes. ViPR introduces a new concept in fitness and sports conditioning – Loaded Movement Training."

It's fun to use: lunging with it, chopping it through my legs, making a circle with it front of my chest before hoisting it overhead, jumping jacks with it and doing shuttle runs where the ViPR is placed on the ground to the side, in front and the other side. It's a good cardio workout and I'm sure it must be doing wonders for my all-round conditioning.

We finished with some gruelling side plank raises. I hate those. They left my sides feeling stiff for the next three days. And my neck muscles are still tender today (Friday) after doing some slow leg raises to work on my weak-as-a-kitten abs. It's amazing how quickly these hour-long sessions fly by.

I finished with a sauna and jacuzzi soak and felt good right through to the 9pm end of The World Right Now and a glass of white wine at home.

Up at 6.30am for a 40-minute routine run down the Thames under the clouds. I felt quite sluggish over the first mile but soon loosened up to maintain 8:09 per/mi and an average heart rate of 140bpm.


I headed to the gym after work to try one of Yasmine's recommended interval sessions. The aim is to warm up for five mins before running at 95% (161 bpm) of maximum heart rate for 1'30 then dropping to 70% (120 bpm) for three minutes. Repeat five times then cool down for five minutes.
Fine, but the problem was getting my heart rate up to 161. I was running at 14kph at a pace of 4'20 p/km which was as quick as I felt I could go safely but my rate was only up to 140-ish by the end of the first quick 90 seconds.
I raised the incline for the subsequent quick bit but it wasn't until the last of the five intervals that I felt my heart was up to the right level. I was sweating like a pig but not reaching the sort of rate that I routinely reach on my outdoor runs.
It was a frustrating half-hour and I left feeling I hadn't had a proper session. It's probably a case of practising more on the treadmill. I'll have another go next week.
No booze today; the moderation push is working.

One of those rare, beautiful things - a random day off on a summer Friday. The sun has refused to come out for the second day of the Lord's Ashes Test but the buddleias and tall daises  are in full flower, the leaves are rustling and the kids have finished school. Summer 2015 is officially under way.
I took yesterday as a rest day and celebrated by having a decent session of Longhorn IPAs and a liver dinner in the Princess Victoria with Deborah, Grace and Kevin.
This morning it was a 50-minute steady run to Barnes Bridge and back. Nice and breezy, overcast with the house martins feeding their young under the eaves of the mighty homes opposite Chiswick Eyot.
September is beginning to creep up on me. The training is going ok so far, I'm enjoying the runs and I'm feeling confident enough to plan running routes around the various stops on our imminent Californian odyssey. If I can keep fit, I'm sure I can get round Berlin.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: British 10k London Run

The marathon training schedule had me down for an 11-miler today but when Turner offered me a free place in the British 10k London Run it was too good to turn down.
So at 9.30am I found myself queuing under the clouds at the start line in Piccadilly with 24,000 others, many of them wearing the official corporate t-shirt and many others sporting charity vests. The race set off in a series of waves, each wave full of widely varying running abilities with lots of straggling groups of matching fund-raisers.
And that was the problem with this event: the vast number of fun runners and fun walkers of all shapes and sizes made if very difficult to gain any running momentum. It was a case of weaving and dodging all the way round, sometimes putting the brakes on sharpish when the gap between a wobbly fund-raising bottom and a group of women in personalised cancer research shirts suddenly closed.
I was also surprised to see a few people gasping with their hands on their knees as early as the 3k mark, as though the distance had taken them by surprise already. I really don't mean to sound harsh - anyone who puts on their trainers and gets out there to raise cash for a cause is doing a Good Thing - but it made overtaking very difficult on the narrow, single-carriageway, central London roads.
It would have been much better to separate the waves into expected finish times, as they do for the half marathons I've run in, but I guess that would be an organisational nightmare for an event of this size.

Anyway, I trotted round in a reasonable time of 48'23 and rehydrated with a protein shake on the steps near the Duke of York statue on The Mall. The finisher's medal is handsome and I like the New Balance shirt - but I wouldn't rush to do that race again.

Berlin Marathon: Five-Mile Hyde Park Saturday Circuit

For a change of route, I hopped on the Central Line to Queensway with Grace. She turned left for the ice rink and I turned right for Hyde Park.
Another lovely summer's morning; the lime trees in full flower, the grass baked almost brown and Saturday morning strollers out in full force.
I'd meant to go for a run last night after work but ended up with a three-pinter in the Shaston Arms with Tommy and Gill. I'd done the early Oratory training drop-off in the morning so that was another training day written off.

But a steady circuit of the park in a Manchester City training top is a nice way to start the weekend. I hugged the circumference anti-clockwise past Kensington Palace, left past the Royal Albert Hall, onwards past the barracks and left again parallel with Park Lane to Marble Arch. There were a couple of sets of parkrun pilgrims warming up en route. The final straight through Kensington Gardens makes the loop just over four miles so I completed a dash around the boating lake to make it a five-miler.

I then had the bonus of popping into the ice rink to watch Grace do some Salko jumps before heading home for fry up and a snooze in the garden then out to the LOSBC summer bbq at the Thames Tradesmen's Club at Barnes.
Hundreds of burgers and sausages were smoked and a handful of London Prides ensured I was fully hydrated for tomorrow's British 10k London Run.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: DOMS and Tube Strikes

Kensington Gardens: Thursday's commute

Wednesday: DOMS
Up at 6.30am for a pre-work six-miler down the Thames. Oof, this was classic Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness 23 hours after yesterday's conditioning session. I felt heavy-legged and sluggish from the minute I started running - calves complaining, glutes grumbling and thighs skiving. I just couldn't get going.
Lovely morning for a trot, though; light cloud and a cool breeze as I headed east beyond Hammersmith Bridge. I was pleasantly surprised that I'd averaged 8'10/mi by the time I headed to the kitchen for a protein shake.

Thursday: Tube Strike
Up at 6.30am again for a five-mile walk to work. The £50k-a-year tube drivers want more money for staffing the all-night service which is due in September so today was a network shutdown.
I enjoyed the 90-minute walk in the sunshine with a nice, cooling breeze. Up Bayswater Road to Notting Hall, into Kensington Gardens and straight on through Hyde Park to Marble Arch before ducking behind Oxford Street to reach the office via North Row.
I left just after 5pm for the return walk home in the lovely, warm, evening sunshine, stopping off at the Co-Op on Uxbridge Road for a rehydrating four-pack of London Pride.
I wouldn't want to do it every day but as a one-off, a ten-mile on-foot commute is highly recommended. Did nothing for my training, though: I only got into the cardio zone for nine minutes on the way home. Must ramp it up tomorrow.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: Running Conditioning PT

My fourth personal training session with Yasmine at 8am and as she put in her post-class email, it's amazing how the simplest exercises can sometimes be the hardest.
Walking lunges warmed up the glutes nicely and the lunges with an 8kg kettlebell lift made them burn like billyo straight afterwards. It's the combination of lifts, lunges and balancing that I find really testing.
My calfs were raised and my soleus muscles were teased before my introduction to the tippy-toe steps of ankling, all rounded off with some hop jumps - three times then holding on the tip toes on the third landing. I was teetering around like a doomed tightrope walker by the end of another enjoyable session.
Then there was a bonus: Yasmine had prepared a week-by-week long run schedule between now and the marathon on September 27. It looks great, similar to the Bupa one I've been using but with added value of target pace and negative splits.
If I can keep to a steady pace of nine minutes per mile I can get round Berlin in under four hours. Yasmine says that is very much achievable and I've got to start believing that too. Mind games.
The trick now is to figure out how I'm going to fit them all in to a summer of travelling and festival-going. This Sunday's 11-miler has already been replaced by my company-sponsored entry into the Great British 10k.
The 12-miler the following weekend should be fine but then I'm off to California for a fortnight. Jet lag and weather permitting I would love to do the half-marathon on July 26 around San Francisco, the 14-miler the following week around the rim of the Grand Canyon and the 15-miler in Yosemite before the flight home but that may be ambitious. I don't want to get eaten by a bear in Yosemite Valley.
I've found a decent-looking San Francisco route which traces part of their November half-marathon which I've downloaded to MapMyRun and a Google search suggests plenty of people have enjoyed the scenery of the Canyon and Yosemite with their trainers on and lived to tell the tale.
The fact that the Canyon is at high altitude fills me with trepidation but as Yasmine says, even if I simply power walk around the rim it will be a testing workout.
The 18/19 miler coincides with the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth so something will have to give. Like The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi, I'll simply have to discipline my body.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Berlin Marathon: Norfolk Ten-Miler

Swallows shocked at my relentless ten-miler

Up at 7am after a sticky and fitful Saturday night's sleep for a long run from North Creake to Holkham Hall and back. It was so hot and sunny as I set off full of banana and SIS electrolyte that I seriously worried I might end up sunburnt even at that time in the morning. 
This was a straight and steady run with the skylarks and yellowhammers for company. The first mile was steeper than anyone has a right to expect in Norfolk before undulating into the Holkham estate, over the cattle grids, under the Triumphal Arch and arrow-straight past the obelisk to the lovely lake of intimidating Greylag and Canada geese parading their goslings. 

The route passed in front of the handsome house and out towards Lady Anne's Drive to the halfway point. Then it was back up the long climb to the obelisk and steadily, relentlessly under the arch, the swathes of lush greenery in either side barely shading me from the strong sunshine. 
I took it fairly easy. It was too hot and rolling to push it too hard and I was enjoying the air and the swifts screaming overhead. 

I took the belt with me and finished both mini bottles of electrolyte en route then enjoyed a good old sweat-drenched stretch on the North Creake village green. I necked a protein shake before feasting on a no-holds-barred brunch prepared by Uncle Andy. 
I topped that up on the way back to London with a carvery lunch at The Swan in Hilborough. The Adnam's East Coast IPA was as refreshingly lively as ever. 

This was also a reasonably fond farewell to the orange Asics gel-cumulus 15 trainers. Both left and right had split just over the sole on both sides. I paid £65 for them in a sale in November and I'm surprised they've haven't lasted a bit longer. I reckon I've got around 150 miles out of them. I never really warmed to them, either; they always felt a bit big and garish. 
But we'll always have Hackney. 

Berlin Marathon: Week Four Training Summary

Dark Green Fritillary, Norfolk
Tuesday: a hearty 10k
 After yesterday's rest day I managed to squeeze in an easy six-miler along the Thames after work. This was the first time I'd specifically focused on keeping my heart rate within the cardio zone, instead of the peak zone, for most of the run. It inevitably meant I ran slower but that's ok when the air is filled with jasmine scent and the breeze is keeping me cool on a lovely summer's evening. 
My peak heart rate should be 171 bpm using the classic calculation of 220 minus my age but a check of my peak rate during last Saturday's ParkRun 5k suggests it's more like 181 bpm. Yasmine the PT calculates as follows:
 Max 171
70% is 120
95% is 162
Based on that my usual average bpm of around 146bpm is probably on the high side. Today it was 137bpm which felt fine; I think I'll keep it like that for a few runs and and see what happens.

Wednesday: Henley Royal Regatta

No running today, not much walking either, but plenty of gorgeous sunshine, real ales and wine as guests in the Stewards' Enclosure. It was a special day to see Joseph row at such a prestigious occasion for the first time. It was so hot that us gents were allowed to take off our jackets by mid-afternoon - rare indeed. LOSBC came second to the Germans of Osnabruck in their Princess Elizabeth Cup heat. But just qualifying for the first time in the school's history was a major achievement. 
We celebrated so much over fish and chips in The Baskerville in Shiplake afterwards that I left my credit card in the pub and had to phone up the next morning to ask the barman to destroy it. Happy days. 

Thursday: third personal training session
An 8am body conditioning session with Yasmine. I found the techniques and the balancing tricky - wobbly on the single leg squats and unimpressive with the single leg deadlifts. The Viper twists were easier and the Plyo box bear crawls were fun. I need more practice time on all of them. 
The highlight of the session was a cardio rowing challenge: row 1km in one-minute bursts with 30 secs of rest inbetween. I just dipped on the 4min mark but it was fun. 
Recovered with a sauna and a jacuzzi followed by a walk to The Blue Boat in Hammersmith for a vigorous rehydration session. It was so magnificently hot the real ales were all off so it was down to Yakima Red and Sierra Nevada topped off with a few German favourites in the sun-dappled garden. 

Friday: Easy 40 Minutes
Up at 6.30am for a routine five-miler down the Thames before work. A lovely sunny morning for it and again I was keeping an eye an the heart rate: averaged 145bpm. 

Saturday: Norfolk Hiking

Swallows at Titchwell in Norfolk

We drove up on Friday night to stay with Cath and Andy in North Creake. No running but a steady six-mile walk in the high summer sunshine along the dunes from Burnham Overy Staithe to Wells. 
Butterfly highlights included Dark Green Fritillaries, White Admirals, Ringlets, Red Admirals, Speckled Woods and flocks of Meadow Browns. After a pork pie and pate lunch we headed to Titchwell for a first sighting of Red Veined Darter dragonfly with the bonus of a flock of young Swallows to enjoy. 
We celebrated with fish and chips at The Jolly Sailors in Brancaster and a selection of quality items from the Norfolk Real Ale Shop. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Berlin Marathon: Post-Kanye Nine Miler

A tough nine miler this morning on the Thames loop via Chiswick Bridge and Hammersmith Bridge. Tough because it was muggy. Tough because I enjoyed steak, chips and three delicious pints in the Princess Victoria last night (was that Tom Parker Bowles and his aunty next to us?). Tough because of that bottle of Hardy's Aussie red I needed to dull the pain of Kanye West's headlining show at Glastonbury until midnight. 
I ate a banana and a gel, took the running belt and got round thanks to the SIS electrolyte and a short pause for a dry heave after emerging from the subway under the A4 on Black Lion Lane. 
First run on that route since they mowed the river bank between Thames Tradesmen's and Tideway Scullers. Always a sad sight - summer already drifting away.  
I rehydrated with a protein shake before an unexpected outing to 12.30pm Mass with Grace. I didn't have time to eat before I left so I was weak and dizzy every time I had to stand or kneel. Made good with a fry-up as soon as I got in.
Relaxation and recovery not helped by work calls about cancelled shows, a dark control room, a fake ISIS flag and an imminent Grexit. Finally recovered with a sunshine snooze in the garden while being serenaded by a nearby outdoor karaoke party. 
The left foot is still red around the toe joint but now virtually pain free, thank goodness. Let's hope the rest me is tomorrow morning. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Berlin Marathon: My First ParkRun

Wormwood Scrubs
I did my first 5km ParkRun at Wormwood Scrubs this morning. The colchicine worked its magic overnight just enough to allow me to walk and trot gingerly in the garden with endurable discomfort in the gout-addled joint of the second toe on my left foot.
So I cycled to the Scrubs and met up with a friendly bunch of 57 souls, most of them ParkRun veterans but a few newbies like me among them. Most distinctive of all were a team who'd opted for convict stripes and fun police uniforms in homage to the famous prison on the border. They were celebrating one of their number's 50th run and had travelled all the way up from Basingstoke. Apparently it's a thing to run in as many ParkRun venues as you can. Good on them.
It was Go at 9am in perfect sunny conditions and after a bit of watch fumbling I found myself on the edge of the leading group of elite runners and running rapidly out of puff. The first few metres were unexpectedly up hill across the grassland and I struggled to get a good breathing rhythm together.
In fact I couldn't believe how heavily I was breathing until a glance at my Fitbit watch revealed my pace was sub-seven-minute mile; too quick for me. I eased off and let the big boys gradually disappear into the distant flowering blackberry bushes.
By the end of the first of two laps of the bone-dry Scrubs I'd settled down and felt like I was running on my own with just the chiffchaffs for company. But as I trundled up the hill for the second time I heard heavy breathing behind me. It gradually got closer until with about half a mile to go a bloke overtook me almost apologetically. Then a young teenage boy. I couldn't go with them. I was just glad to take the welcome applause from the quickies at the finish line and kept moving until I could breathe again.
I was pleased with the time - 22:45 with an average pace of 7:24/mi. That was later upped to 22:53 by the official timer which took into account my pensioner pressing of the wrong button on my Fitbit at the start and having to set it up again.

The Strava summary (above) listed some new PBs: 4:21 for 1km, 7:07 for the mile and 14:40 for two miles. Not bad considering the foot pain and the, er, dehydrating effects of the hardcore drug. I don't suppose last night's bottle of red wine helped much either.
I rewarded myself with a protein shake followed by a sauna and a soak in the jacuzzi. Then it was time for the traditional Saturday fry-up with a less traditional colchicine tablet on the side.
The impressive ParkRun set-up texted me my time and later an email linked to the full results; I finished 15th in the race and second in my age category with a grade of 63.95%.
A decent start and something to aim for next time - minus the bloody gout.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Berlin Marathon: My Left Foot

Nice toenail

I'm injured again. It feels like gout or arthritis in the joint of the second toe of my left foot but the fact that it flared up a couple of hours after my second personal trainer session this morning makes me wonder. 
The 8am session was great. A really good hour of body conditioning; burpees, tyre jumps and flips, round-the-world push-ups, battle ropes - all brilliantly demonstrated by Yasmine. She's good at encouraging and cajoling without overdoing it. I huff and puff and feel ashamed of my bony girl arms but I can feel myself getting stronger. 
I went home feeling pleased with myself and got to work just as news was breaking of a terror decapitation in France closely followed by a tourist massacre courtesy of a lunatic jihadist in Tunisia. 
It was straight into organisation mode; getting Hala on the road to Lyon, sending updates to Max on air in Berlin, shuttling between the Newsdesk and the gallery, scrambling writers and briefing programme teams and Atlanta bosses. 
But I still felt fit and good. I even printed out my ParkRun barcode thinking I could do my first 5km run at Wormwood Scrubs tomorrow. 
The toe joint twinges started about an hour later and got gradually worse. By 12.30pm I'd popped a couple of ibuprofen with my Leon chicken tagine and I was starting to limp. By 4pm the familiar pain was pretty constant and the drugs weren't working. 
The rolling coverage meant I also had to biff an evening dash to Henley to watch Joseph's boat attempting to qualify for the regatta next week. A big blow on a lovely summer Friday. 
Did I tweak something during the session, could it have been stress related or was it just a routine acute explosion of gout? I limped out of the office at 7.30pm and despaired all the way home via the 207 bus to avoid the walk from the tube station. 
And now I sit with an ice block on my foot having swallowed a couple of colchicine tablets while enduring the lamentable Mark Ronson massacring The Smiths at Glastonbury. 
 I really hope the tabs kick in tonight. If not it's a weekend without training but I'd rather it happened now than the Friday before the marathon. 
And the best news of all - Joseph did it. Yay!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Berlin Marathon: Work-Training Balance

Trafalgar Square today

It's sometimes tough to fit in the training schedule around the full-time job. Yesterday was a good example. I had to be at work at 8.30am and I didn't fancy a 6am run even though I knew I wouldn't have any time for a workout during the day.
The Calais migrant story meant I didn't leave the office until 9pm and went straight to The Clachan with the editorial team for a couple of celebratory pints of Meantime London Pale Ale before heading home. So no training. 
This morning I took revenge. I went to the 9am editorial meeting, set the news wheels in motion then ducked out for a five-mile run along the Thames. It was fabulous. Warm and sunny, running into a cool breeze on the way out on the south bank and running back with the light wind behind me. 

I felt out of puff in the final mile but my right foot felt fine and I returned to the office by noon with a lightly-perspired white shirt and a mood buoyed by the summer sights of a golden Parliament and the imperious London Eye glinting in the mid-June joyfulness. 
It was also a pretty quick run - one of the miles was around 7'30, so go me. 
I headed back to work, revived and refreshed, via a photo-op in a sun-kissed Trafalgar Square.